POLITICS

St. Andrews scientist speaks out over cuts

07/11/2012 02:00 EDT | Updated 09/10/2012 05:12 EDT
A retired scientist from St. Andrews is speaking out against recent federal science cuts, saying human health and local wisdom are at stake.

Hundreds of members of the academic community staged a protest Tuesday on Parliament Hill, accusing the government of stifling research that doesn't fit with the 'pro-business' agenda.

John Castell, a former marine biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said the federal science cuts include cutting the entire toxicology contaminants team in St. Andrews.

He said the decision to cut the people who investigate local oil and pesticide spills is putting human health at stake.

"The aquaculture industry is big bucks in New Brunswick and I think it's an embarrassment to the government," Castell said. "I mean, why else are you going to cut that department?"

A brand new library in the town, paid for by taxpayers, is now slated to close in 2013 as a result of the cuts.

On Tuesday, the Save Our Ocean Sciences Committee (SOOSC) sat down to plan their own local protest.

St. Andrews Mayor Stan Choptiany, a SOOSC member, said he hopes a rally in St. Andrews on July 18 will draw attention to the cuts, and possibly help reverse them.

"We're losing people and their families. They are part of the fabric of our community," he said. "Their salaries add to the economy of the town. So when you lose half a million dollars in salaries, it's a dramatic effect on the town."

Far from the seaside town, Michelle Rempel, the parliamentary secretary to the environment minister, defended the government's record on Tuesday.

"If the folks on the hill today opened up budget 2012, they'd see we've increased expenditures for research and development in several key funding areas including the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which funds research infrastructure," she said.

Academic community marches on Parliament Hill

On Tuesday, hundreds of scientists staged a mock funeral procession in Ottawa, claiming recent federal cuts are the "death of evidence."

The elimination of the long form census, cuts to ozone monitoring, air and marine pollution as well as other environmental programs were given as examples of how the government has mounted "a systematic campaign to reduce the flow of scientific evidence to Canadians," the protesters said.

"We don't protect habitat anymore, we protect only the fish of commercial value, or of value to First Nations," said Sherry Schiff, professor and research chair at the University of Waterloo.

Scientists say they're worried that without facts and scientific evidence, government policy will be based on speculation.

"Without scientific evidence and facts to support government policies we're unable to say whether these policies are actually helping Canadians," said Curtis Walton, PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa.